At a very simplistic level heart, visual art – like all art forms – is all about storytelling. The viewer brings their own experience and emotions to bear on the business of looking at the art in question; be it sculpture, installation, drawing, performance or film. As award-winning Glasgow-based artist Jacqueline Donachie puts it: "There are layers of art that people digest at their own level"

If your are interested in smart, layered art, which is simultaneously a puzzle and a revelation, then make your way to the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh now. There, you will find a distillation of three decades worth of clear-sighted art-making by Donachie.

To get to the gallery you may do what I did and take the train from west to east before making your way up the Waverley Station escalator along a corridor divided by steel tubing.

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Inside the Fruitmarket, in the upper level, you become aware of a version of the self-same tubing, described by Donachie as "space navigators" slipping and sliding from one wall to another; slightly askew but oddly beautiful nonetheless.

Donachie's emerald green powder-coated aluminium steel tubes take on an abstract persona inside a gallery setting. Unlike the steel tubing you see everywhere out and about in our public spaces, Donachie's have no obvious function. Somehow, they underscore the whole exhibition.

Since the early 1990s, when Donachie graduated from the Glasgow School of Art's famous environmental art course led by David Harding and Sam Ainslie, she has been making art which explores her own place in the world. Her work is hugely influenced by German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys' notion of "social sculpture" in which a gesture influences the way that people start to think about society.

Born in 1969, Donachie is what is commonly referred to in the business that is art as a "mid-career artist". A strange hinterland for any artist, particularly women artists like Donachie, who have juggled making art with raising a family. Luckily, last September, the Fruitmarket won the inaugural Freelands Award. This £100,000 award established by Elisabeth Murdoch's Freelands Foundation is for a "regional" arts organisation to present an exhibition, including significant new work, by a "mid-career female artist who may not have yet received the acclaim or public recognition that her work deserves."

Although the exhibition was already scheduled when the Fruitmarket won the award – with £25,000 going to Donachie – it allowed her to concentrate on making new work while revisiting past themes in her art.

Donachie describes her art as portraiture and taken at face-value, one might ask the question, "why?". She doesn't create standard versions of portraits with a pair of eyes, a mouth and a nose. But look at her drawings of two street lamps side-by-side though and you will feel your back bend a little as you lean in. There's something very person-like about these simple pencil drawings.

Turn around and you will see an oversized black metal ramp, like an out-of-kilter version of a mobility ramps you see outside houses or public buildings. Sitting on this ramp is a small box-like television screen showing a work called Pose Work for Sisters. This video was made in 2016 and first saw the light of day in Donachie's 2016 exhibition at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art, Deep in the Heart of Your Brain.

The screen is separated into nine separate boxes. Inside these boxes two women (Donachie and her older sister, Susan) dressed in long black leotards, come and go quietly. As they navigate three different shaped white box plinths, you note that one of the women – Susan – is walking and posing awkwardly.

In many ways, as viewers, we don't need to know that Susan and her two children have an inherited neuro-muscular disorder called Myotonic Dystrophy. Or that Donachie and her three children don't have this debilitating condition.

But thanks to Donachie's clear-sighted desire to know more and to interrogate the condition and how it affects her family as an artist, as well as a sister, the work is devastating. We might not know why, but suddenly the surrounding green tubing and the drawings and the ramp all start to work together on our collective consciousness.

Likewise the two floor-to-ceiling Winter Trees sculptures made of aluminium tubing painted black, one of which bends while the other stands tall and straight. The tall straight one has what could be a leather "skirt" just over half-way down. In a corner, leaning against the wall is a ball-pit of spherical objects of varying sizes attached to wires; like cells of DNA clinging on for dear life.

Donachie's speciality is simplicity. She pares down bodies and cells and the stuff of life into visual totems.

Downstairs, she reprises two works from her prodigious output as an artist who works firmly in the public realm. The first is an updated version of one of her Advice Bars, which first saw the light of day in New York. This beautiful concrete and steel structure cuts its way through one of the Fruitmarket's white walls and rests atop two large piles of The Herald. Part sculpture/part performance piece, the work is playing host to a programme of advice sessions throughout the exhibition, taking its cue from its first incarnation in New York, during which a young Donachie, cigarette in hand, dispensed drinks and free advice to visitors as she leaned on the bar.

At the other side of the room is Donachie’s Temple of Jackie (2011/2017), a miniature social space with turntables and other music-related paraphernalia built into a reconfigured camping trailer. C'mon in, it seems to urge as it glows with an oddly comforting makeshift iridescent promise. That invitation is an open one. Entry to the Fruitmarket is free. Take a look at this stand-out exhibition while you can.

Jacqueline Donachie, The Fruitmarket Gallery, 45 Market Street, Edinburgh, 0131 225 2383, fruitmarket.co.uk, until February 11, 2018